Thursday, April 22, 2010

Volcanology is cool

A quick apology for being off the air for a month. When I'm not chasing a toddler I'm sleeping as I near my due date with my second child. But recent geologic events in Iceland have grabbed enough of my attention to get me off the couch, back online and reminded me on this Earth Day that Mother Nature really is in charge.

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while you know I'm a science geek. Nothing is cooler than an erupting volcano. Especially an erupting volcano that I've been to! In April of 2001 a friend and I took a long weekend adventure to Iceland, and it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Now that the ash is clearing, and air traffic resumes to this magical land, I recommend everyone to go visit. You won't be disappointed.

My friend and I spent a day driving all over southwestern Iceland which brought us right past the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers on our way to Vik, a beautiful black sand beach at the southern tip of the island. The only picture I have of the volcano area is of the Myrdalsjokull glacier (below), which on the map above looks like it's the same piece of ice as Eyjafjallajokull.

And under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier is the current erupting volcano.

There's a million things you can find online about this volcano, besides of course the air traffic disruptions (ironically the ash from Eyjafjallajokull kept my Icelandic travel partner from returning from Boston to her teaching job in Russia, she just made it back today, five days late). But there are a few fascinating things I've learned about this eruption:

The first is that it could go on for a year or more. And when Eyjafjallajokull erupts if often sets off the neighboring volcano of Katla, which is three times bigger. So if you're planning any air travel to or from Europe anytime soon you may want to buy travel insurance.

Secondly, as the glacier melts from the volcanic activity it releases pressure on the earth's crust which usually results in more volcanic activity. Scientists are predicting that with global warming we'll see more volcanoes. The Times UK reports that "...the eruption may be only a taste of the future if climate change causes ice sheets to melt further. As the last ice age ended, volcanic activity in Iceland increased 30-fold because of reduced pressure on the earth’s mantle."

And third, the volcano is probably releasing enormous amounts of fluoride, which could possibly poison livestock that might drink from glacial melt water. Wikipedia reports "In 1783, 79 per cent of the Icelandic sheep stock were killed, probably as a result of fluorosis caused by the eruption of Laki. The effect also spread beyond Iceland. Ash from the current Eyjafjallajökull eruption contains one third the concentration typical in Hekla eruptions, with a mean value of 104 milligrams of fluoride per kilogram of ash." That toxic ash that is currently spreading all over Europe.

So for those of you who just thought a little ash was affecting air travel and nothing else, this volcano is doing a lot more than even I realized.

I'll leave you with a few photos snapped back in 2001 with, believe it or not, print film. Luckily I have a scanner.

To the left is Skogafoss, one of the most amazing waterfalls I have ever seen and very close to the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. To fully see its size that's me below in front of it.

This photo below was taken literally standing in the zone between the American and European techtonic plates. All those sea stacks are old volcanoes. If you look out to sea from this spot old volcanoes dot the horizon all the way south.


  1. Those are gorgeous photos. I wonder how different those places will be when this eruption is over. I have been following the news and reading about the volcano. It is hard to imagine the scope of everything being affected by it. The pictures of inches deep ash covering the fields are disturbing. The landscape is changing every moment that this continues.

  2. I thought I was so smart to book our Germany trip this summer by way of Iceland on Iceland Air. I'm not looking so smart now.

  3. I have missed your presence here in the blogosphere, but I knew you were busy incubating, plus I'm a Facebook friend so I see you there quite often, even though I just read and don't usually put up status updates any more. These pictures are awesome, and I agree that we really don't know what will be coming in the near future from these volcanos, but it's probably not over yet. However, I can still wish you Happy Earth Day from here in the Pacific Northwest.

  4. I am thrilled to see you back online and I am also happy you are doing well. I was worried about you & your little one in the oven!! :)

    Fabulous pictures and very interesting reading. How upsetting about the sheep dying from the poisons. I do hope that doesn't happen to the animals now, that would be so heartbreaking. I hadn't thought much about the other ramnifications of the volcano so you've sparked my interest to learn more.

    Glad you are back and thank you for your sweet comment. It's getting better.

  5. Hi Rae! I can imagine this would interest you :) I'll be following the story right along with you too!

    RT: I hope you get through OK. Are you doing a stop over in Iceland? If so you HAVE to go to the Blue Lagoon, it's like the world's largest hot tub :)

    DJan: I've missed the blogosphere too, I had fun catching up on your blog the other night, I've missed everyone! Life often gets in the way though :)

    Lisa: No need to worry about me, I'm just nap during my toddler's naptime now and if I open my lap top in front of her she demands to watch National Geographic videos of whales (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it means no blogging :)

    I haven't heard anything about dying sheep yet, but it often takes a while to build up toxins. I'm glad you're doing better as well. I wish I checked your blog weeks ago! so sorry!

    thanks for your interest everyone, science is fascinating!

  6. -Glad you are OK as I (we) was worrying about your silence...

    -Will the resulting ash cloud set off another mini ice age/cold summer?

    -Don't buy any coastal water front property...


  7. The last time I have experienced a volcanic eruption was about 20 years ago when an active volcano erupted after 600 years. The ashfalls exploded as far as the neighboring countries in Asia. Everything has turned white as if winter has occurred and many homes has been ravished by the lahar flow, rivers were covered by lahars. According to the natives of the mountain the Gods got angry due to massive deforestation and quarrying.


  8. Wow, I didn't know about the poisonous ash!

  9. Deborah: just tired, that's all, being a mom is tough huh? :) Reports are predicting the volcano won't set off a mini ice age, but who knows?

    AL: When I was researching this post I came across a lot of comparisons to 1991 eruption of Pinatubo. I remember when that blew, I can't imagine what your country must have gone through! I agree with the native people, the gods must be angry and I think they still are...

    Steve: I haven't heard much more about the ash, but I'll keep you all posted if I do.

  10. Your photos are awesome. I read somewhere that this volcano stayed in its active state for more than 2 years in one of its last eruptions.

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I've a response to your comment. Check it out.

  11. I love these photos and your science geekdom!you're so smart and curious. You're kids are going to be geniuses!

    My cukes are popping up too.
    Glad you are well and trying to stay rested.

  12. Kate this was a really fascinating post and I'm going to have to come back and read it over and over again. When I read your posts I wonder why I didn't continue with science (actually - I hated algebra so never continued with Physics, chemistry and biology, subjects I really loved ..Dumb huh!) and went on to economics and anthropology (no regrets there though).
    I have been dying to go to Iceland and have been mentally planning a trip with the kids. Looks like it won't be this year then ;-)
    Fabbo again
    Hope number 2 is coming along well

  13. I hope you are just taking a break. Miss your musings

  14. Hi Matthew! You're very sweet, nearing the end of my second pregnancy and I've been in false labor for over a week, I've been a bit, well, distracted :) I'll be back soon, promise! -kate


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